Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Things I Learned Before 30

Happy 30th

In three short weeks I'll finally dance gracefully stumble into the big 3-0.  It's incredible the magnitude of that number for some of us.  Thankfully, after many years of rewiring my thinking and an infinitely patient counselor, I'm happier looking back and remembering the lessons I've learned, the successes I've had and the obstacles I've overcome.  I'm going to share with you 30 life lessons I've learned so far.

30 Life Lessons

1. Change is a must.

For many years I knew things needed to change.  Bitterness was a constant companion and it took looking inward at very uncomfortable moments sometimes to realize that the only person that could change my unhappiness was me.  For me, change wasn't just a nice idea, but a necessity for my own peace of mind.  But changes don't happen for people when they're not ready.  The change has to be a necessity before you'll work for it.  Recognizing that necessity will give you the courage to make significant changes in your life.

2. Your ego won't save you.

Ego is the antithesis of humility, and without humility we cannot accept growth and change for ourselves. The Japanese method called Kaizen, which essentially means continual growth and learning, is impossible to even begin to practice without first sacrificing one's ego.  Ego will blind you to truths about yourself, it will prevent you from apologizing for being wrong, it will hinder your ability to accept criticisms, and will eventually sabotage your relationships.

3. Growth and Giving are the meaning of life.

Living a meaningful life is simple; commit yourself to a lifetime of continual growth as an individual and give to your community in a meaningful way.  It's just that simple.

4. Finding your passion is important.

My passion is social activism.  I used to think it was drawing, painting, reading, or some other more creative outlet that I have accumulated over the years.  Once I realized what my true passion was, it changed my life. Do yourself a favor and find yours - it will change everything.

5. Relationships matter.

Not all relationships will equate to ground-breaking, life-changing phases of your life... but there are a few key relationships that matter significantly more than the others.  For me there have been less than ten that I've experienced that have genuinely changed who I am as a person and have profoundly effected my state of mind in relation to a great number of topics (family, politics, religion, technology, etc.).  Remember those relationships (you'll know the ones), and what they taught you about the world around you and about yourself.  It's those lessons that will serve as pins in the roadmap of your growth.

6. You don't need everyone to like you.

It's natural for us to seek acceptance, but just like you can't place equal value on every relationship you have, you can't expect other people to always value you as much as you'd prefer.

"Popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong."
 - Oscar Wilde

7. Status isn't important.

Along the lines of popularity, as a people we place a lot of value on material wealth as an indicator of true wealth.  I've met plenty of people with what appeared to be very lavish lifestyles who were, in reality, almost completely devoid of true contentedness and bankrupt emotionally.  Like the quote from Fight Club:

"You're not the car you drive.  You're not the contents of your wallet.  You're not your khakis."

8. Jealousy and Envy are wastes of energy.

Jealousy used to be a driving force for my ambition; making me a slave to keeping up with the status quo.  This is still something I suffer from, and work at overcoming constantly.  Now that I've refocused my ambition to more altruistic pursuits, I am able to see more clearly the effects jealousy and envy have on relationships.  I've never subscribed to the idea that displaying jealousy in relationships is a sign of caring.  From what I see, it is better for the health of a relationships to show you care by trusting people, and telling them that you trust them.  When you trust people around you, jealousy just sort of naturally disappears.

9. Find your comforts, but don't let them become crutches.

Many of us develop bad habits with the idea that they are an outlet for releasing negative energy.  Realizing the difference between a vice and a comfort can prevent developing crutches.  Crutches serve only to foster a dependency on unhealthy habits.

10. Love.  A lot.

It sounds cliche to repeat that old saying 'it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all' but the message is no less true.  Just as it's important to remember those key relationships that have changed you, committing yourself and allowing yourself to love is key.  Loving is what slows down life and creates those moments of surrealistic beauty in between the daily grind.

11. Just feeling Love is not enough.

It's important for us to love.  But feeling love and showing love are entirely different.  Express your appreciation to those you love by actively showing it.

12. Success is just perspective.

Some people view the house, car, 2.5 kids and a pile of 0's in their bank account as success.  Some people think success is the ability to find contentedness in any situation.  There is no right or wrong answer to what success really looks like.  Find what fulfills you and satisfies you; discover what your dreams are then go out and work for them.  Satisfaction is success, and only you can define what that means.

13. Health is much more important than most people realize.

Without a healthy body, nothing else matters.  Your self-esteem suffers, your activity level suffers, and eventually relationships begin to suffer.  Take care of your body, and it will repay you.  It is, after all, the only one you get in this life!

14. Sentimental items are disposable.

Recently I lost a great deal when a harddrive suffered a mechanical failure.  I lost 13 years worth of photos.  I am a casual but thorough photographer.  I tend to come home with several hundred pictures to edit and post and file away when taking photos.  The upsetting reality I had to face when accepting that those photos had been lost was nothing compared to the resignation of the beautiful memories of the moments I'd captured.  Realizing that it was enough to remember fondly became enough of a comfort.  It's been a lesson I've been reminded of a handful of times in my life.

15. Awareness is the key to freedom.

The ability to focus on what is important is a habit more difficult for some than others.  A part of having a keen awareness is the acknowledgement that most of our lives are filled with excess and to see things clearly we need to clean out the superfluous junk that distracts us.

16. Live in this moment.

Stop allowing your 'should haves' and 'what ifs' to be anchors holding you back from living in this moment.  Instead, allow yourself to fully concentrate on making this moment as meaningful as possible.  Living in this single instance will prevent you from stumbling from looking over your shoulder for reminders of your past failures and missteps, but will also serve to focus you on forward momentum.  Living in this moment will build a series of positive forward-moving moments that will lend themselves naturally to a successful and fulfilling life.

17. Honesty is one of the cornerstones of a healthy state of mind.

Don't lie.  It's really that simple.

18. Never be afraid to be Open.

Being open is more complicated than simply being honest.  Openness requires being articulate, and telling the entire truth.  There are no expansive rules for openness that apply to every person; it is subjective to the individual.  You have to learn how to be honest with yourself before you can be open with other people.  But that's not to imply that you have to open up about everything in your life - just what matters and what you know you need to share with others to obtain what you need - whether it be as simple as them listening so you can vent, or some other type of support.

“It may...be judged indecent in me to come forward on this occasion; but when I see a fellow-creature about to perish through the cowardice of her pretended friends, I wish to be allowed to speak, that I may say what I know of her character.” 
― Mary Shelley

19. Hype and Shock can deteriorate rational thinking.

We are pawns, my dears.  We are all victims to the unstoppable corporate machine.  It isn't hyperbole, it's just a sad truth we face in our society.  But luckily there is a way to counteract the barrage of fear-mongering, war-romanticizing, emotional propaganda making talking heads.  We can train ourselves to not only ignore the hype and the shock messages, but to respond with a venomous distaste so strong we begin to encourage those around us to think more analytically about what information we're told and what emotions we're being encourage to feel.

20. Fear is often an unnecessary emotion.

What do you fear?  Often what we're scared of doesn't actually have a real impact on our lives, or is something out of our control anyway.  Overcoming those irrational fears is a must.

21. Change is nothing to fear; it is simply growth.

Everyone talks about hopes for a brighter future; something they could be proud of one day.  But many of us don't have the courage to change the present to attain that brighter future.  Change is something we believe we should fear because it means uncertainty, and that can mean discomfort and nobody likes that.  It's only when we learn to enjoy the process of change and welcome it when we recognize the signs for it that we can really enjoy the rewards of change.  Change is how we grow.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 
― Haruki Murakami

22. Events of the past do not predict outcomes in the future.

You can't change the past, so it's important to focus on the present.  Learning and applying the lessons you learned in the past is how to effectively live in the present.  If you find yourself looking backward from time to time, learn to reflect on the lessons instead of the 'what ifs'.

23. Your job isn't always your mission in life.

There is a difference between having a job to make ends meet, and having a job that is an extension of what you're passionate about.  And there is no better or worse; just different.  Your job doesn't have to define who you are.  In fact, those who are lucky enough to have found a way to make a living from what they're good at and enjoy doing, are in the minority.  It is a rarity, and nothing to be ashamed of if you haven't found.  There is great respect to be given to those people who spend time invested in a job that they recognize is a necessity and still apply all their work ethic to.

24. You are not the center of the universe.

Looking at the world around you from a perspective not your own is not easy for everyone to do.  We are predisposed to worrying about what is going on in our own lives to such a degree that it may be difficult for us to see things objectively sometimes.  We are acutely aware of what is going on in our own lives that we start to believe and behave like everything is connected to our own lives.

Only when you disconnect yourself from the idea that you are the center of the universe can you truly pay attention to what is going on in front of you, around you and inside you.

25. Pain happens; suffering we choose.

Pain is what we feel when something is wrong.  It's a valuable indicator that we need to change something immediately.  Suffering is an active choice.  Sometimes we choose suffering when we can't muster the courage to make a change to stop our pain.  Once we accept the lesson the pain taught us, we can end our suffering and move on.

26. Doubt will hold you back.

The only person stopping you from doing everything you want, who stops you from being free, who stops you from being healthy or happy or passionate or ambitious or living a meaningful life, is you.  Doubt can drown every ounce of your life if you let it.

27. Wait sometimes.

We are in such a rush in our lives.  Sometimes it seems as if the entire world flies by us and by the time we look up for air, months have gone by and we're dizzy trying to regain our perspective.

Pause for a moment.  Enjoy this moment.  Stop wherever you're rushing off to, and wait.  Look around, take a deep breath, hear the sounds around you, take in those moments for a brief respite from the blur of time flying by.  You'll remember those moments later, and they will help you feel as though you lived each moment  instead of wondering what you did this past year.

28. Happiness can't come from without.

Lacking happiness creates a void within us.  We often fall victim to attempting to fill that void with things.  Shopping, eating, distractions, alcohol; whatever.  At best, these things will only briefly satisfy you.  At worst, these things can become the focus of our lives, and we end up watching helplessly as we dismantle our lives right out from under ourselves by being empty and depressed and more alone in a sea of material items.  It is during those moments when even being in a crowd of people you feel completely alone.

Find happiness that will truly fulfill you.  (See 4. Finding Your Passion is Important)

29. Learn to say Goodbye.

The first lesson I remember ever learning was: overcome grief.  At its core, grief is the process of saying goodbye.  Saying goodbye to a friend, a job, a house, a pet or a family member; grief manifests itself in so many ways in our lives, and will be a constant companion until those around us must grieve our inevitable death.

It is understanding the process of saying goodbye, and the necessity to overcome grief that allows us to not become a slave to the griefs we are bound to encounter in our lives - over and over.  To be a master of the grieving process is a must for a healthy mindset regarding the end of things, the change of things, and accepting opportunities that present themselves.

Mastering grief is a must in the process of accepting necessary growth.

30. You don't have all the answers.

Accepting change, abandoning ego, and welcoming what the future holds allow me to comfortably say that I don't know everything.  My beliefs, principles, and values change with new knowledge and new experiences... and I accept that I will look back on these things I've learned, and I will modify what I've learned, and will continue to add to what I've learned.

I don't expect these lessons to apply to everyone, and certainly I am not attempting to categorize anyone inaccurately by supposing these lessons I've learned are even relevant to other people or that anyone can definitively appreciate or empathize with any of the things I've come to learn.

It's only my hope that in reading some of these things, you may have found answers to areas of your own life that you've been having struggles with.  And it is my hope that you'll be inspired to look back and take stock of the things you've learned in your life, and perhaps be able to acknowledge areas you then recognize that have a need for some changes... and the courage to take steps to make those changes happen.

(Note: this was inspired by the brilliant Joshua Fields Millburn: 30 Life Lessons from 30 Years)